Yesterday, a Cambodian court convicted 20 opposition politicians and activists, including two prominent exiled leaders, on vague charges of “incitement” and “conspiracy,” consigning them to lengthy prison terms.
Most of those sentenced by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court were members of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was outlawed in late 2017. The group included seven leaders living abroad, including former CNRP leader Sam Rainsy and deputy leaders Mu Sochua and Eng Chai Eang, who received 10 year prison sentences on charges of “incitement,” “inciting military personnel to disobedience,” and “conspiracy.” Twelve more defendants were sentenced to five years in prison on “incitement” and “conspiracy” charges, but will only be required to serve three years and eight months in prison, with the remainder of the sentences suspended. (The sentence of the last defendant, who was earlier released on bail for health reasons, has been fully suspended.)
During the trial, the prosecutor argued that the group had tried to “overthrow the government,” referencing an attempt in late 2019 by party leaders, led by Sam Rainsy, to return to Cambodia with a “tsunami of supporters” and challenge Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government. He alleged that the CNRP officials formed part of a “secret network” that sought to disrupt Cambodia’s economy and use the COVID-19 pandemic to undermine Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) government. Specifically, the prosecutor also claimed that the group was responsible for the European Union’s August 2020 decision to partially suspend the trade preferences that Cambodia enjoys under its Everything But Arms scheme.